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Poll: 73 Percent of Idahoans Want State Control Over Federal Lands


  • Idaho Politics Weekly

According to a poll from Idaho Politics Weekly, a majority of Idahoans want federal lands handed over to the state.

The poll, conducted on 603 Idaho residents April 8-19, showed 73 percent of them would like to see management of federal lands given to the state of Idaho. It also showed 23 percent of Idahoans would like federal lands to remain in the hands of its current managers and 5 percent don't know. The poll has a 3.99 percent margin of error.

The results run counter to another poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in 2014, which surveyed 1,600 voters in eight Western states, including Idaho. According to that poll, 52 percent of respondents opposed state public land takeovers. Strong feelings on the subject of public lands were still more lopsided: 31 percent of respondents "strongly opposed" and 19 percent "strongly supported" state governments assuming control over federal lands.

The majority in the Public Opinion Strategies poll were opposed to the state takeover of public lands because of the costs that would be associated with the transfer and continued management. That concern was echoed in a University of Idaho report also released in 2014, which found state control of public lands would be an economic loser. An analysis of the U of I report by Evan Hjerpe, a Conservation Economics Institute economist, indicated shortcomings in the report, but Hjerpe concluded that "eight out of nine scenarios would cost the state of Idaho to lose tens of millions of dollars annually.

Federal lands constitute the bulk of many Western states. In Idaho, they make up approximately 64 percent of the Gem State's acreage and for years there has been a push in several state legislatures to find ways of placing control over those lands in the hands of states. In 2013, House Concurrent Resolution 21 cropped up in the Idaho Legislature, which would have created a committee to study and report on a process for "acquir[ing] title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the State of Idaho."

The debate over who should own public lands has made headlines—and in some cases sparked violence—with increasing regularity this year.  

In January 2016, militants began an occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon protesting federal control of public lands. The standoff with local and federal law enforcement claimed the life of rancher and anti-federal lands activist Robert "LaVoy" Finicum. The last occupier was placed into law enforcement custody Feb. 11.

Meanwhile, anti-federal lands activists held the Storm Over Rangelands Conference in Boise Jan. 30, with legal experts, activists and ranchers decrying federal influence and opponents of the Malheur occupation—stating claims the federal government has acted outside its constitutional bounds by holding public lands in the first place.

In the wake of the occupation, however, some ranchers, federal agencies and lawmakers have worked to find common ground, focusing on methods of balancing economic, environmental and bureaucratic interests in Idaho's public lands. 

The Idaho Politics Weekly poll revealed partisan divides over support of state land takeovers, with 87 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of independents and 47 percent of Democrats approving of state takeovers.